On August 8, 2014, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Board of Directors (the Board), in a groundbreaking measure, voted 16–2 to grant the so-called “Power Five” conferences (the ACC, the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the Pac-12) significantly expanded autonomy in how those conferences govern themselves.

The governance proposal approved by the Board had previously been proffered by the Division I Steering Committee on Governance. The governance model establishes what the Board describes as “a more transparent, responsive, participative, and streamlined governance process” and establishes a system of autonomy for the member institutions and “fully meets the needs and expectations of student-athletes in the 21st century.”

Structural Changes

The Power Five conferences now have the authority to, among other things, reduce the outside money restrictions on athletes, increase athletic scholarship values, allow athletes to communicate with agents, allow travel stipends for athletes’ families, create larger coaching staffs, and set their own academic standards. The governance model does not require the Power Five conferences to enact these changes. Instead, the governance model grants the Power Five conferences the right to enact changes that previously would have been prohibited by NCAA regulations.

The adopted proposal specifically states that, “the five conferences and their 65 member institutions who find themselves in the forefront of public attention and criticism will be authorized to expand their influence and to provide leadership on matters that directly affect student-athlete well-being.” The changes include giving the Power Five conferences autonomy with regards to the following:  

  • Health and Wellness, giving member institutions the ability to determine health care and insurance policies to sufficiently provide care to their athletes;
  • Meals and Nutrition, allowing the conferences to determine meal plans to adequately meet the student-athletes’ needs;
  • Financial Aid, allowing the conferences to increase the maximum grant-in-aid and to provide scholarships to former student athletes to complete their undergraduate educations under certain circumstances;
  • Expenses and Benefits, allowing complimentary admissions, travel expenses reimbursement, expenses incidental to practice, including parking costs, and postseason travel for friends and family; and
  • Career Transition Support, allowing athletes more access to agents and advisors to assist the athletes in career planning and decision making.  

The autonomy extended to the Power Five includes academic support for student-athletes and the ability to revise and establish their own rules regarding recruiting, coaching staff size, time demands on student athletes, insurance, and career transition for pre-professional athletes at the member schools, and pre-enrollment travel expenses and health and medical benefits support, as well as pre-career insurance support, allowing athletes to secure loans to purchase loss-of-value insurance or allowing the schools to directly purchase the insurance for the athletes.

Procedural Changes

In addition to the structural changes to the Power Five’s autonomy regarding spending and other matters, the adopted proposal also changes the structure and procedure of Division I shared governance voting.

Each member school within the Power Five conferences will have a voting designee and each Power Five conference will appoint three student athlete representatives, resulting in a Power Five Conference Legislative Committee made up of 80 individuals to determine autonomy proposals. After the Legislative Committee votes on autonomy proposals, there is a 60-day comment period that allows the rest of the Division I schools to offer comments, but autonomy decisions may not be overridden by the rest of the Division I schools as long as the measures pass the Legislative Committee by either (i) three of the five conferences and a 60 percent majority of the Legislative Committee, or (ii) four of five of the conferences and a simple majority of the Legislative Committee.

Regarding those shared governance issues that still fall under the purview of the NCAA, the adopted proposal sets up an all-conference legislative process, referred to as a “Council” legislative process, allowing a 40-member council (including two student-athlete representatives) to have a vote in Division I governance. The Power Five’s weighted votes will account for 38–40 percent of the 32-conference Division I votes.

There is a 60-day override period that will allow the non-Power Five conference schools to veto the governance model’s implementation. However, it is widely anticipated that the non-Power Five conferences will not exercise this veto.

The full NCAA proposal is available here.